Rheumatoid arthritis is a progressive autoimmune condition that leads to chronic pain and stiffness. The condition is commonly considered a disability when the pain it causes prevents people from working.

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Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic health condition that leads to pain, swelling, and stiffness in the joints. As the condition progresses, it can become more difficult to use the affected joints. Symptoms can be managed with medication and lifestyle changes, but there is no cure for rheumatoid arthritis.

When pain and other symptoms prevent people with rheumatoid arthritis from working, the U.S. Social Security Administration and other disability service agencies consider rheumatoid arthritis to be a disability.

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune health condition. It causes the immune system to attack healthy cells in your body. This leads to inflammation and pain throughout the body. RA most often affects the joints. Commonly affected joints include the knees, wrists, and hands.

As RA progresses, damage to joint tissue can cause chronic pain, difficulty controlling the affected joint, and loss of previous joint shape.

RA isn’t always a disability, but it can qualify as one if a person with RA meets specific criteria. The exact criteria depend on the agency or organization you’d like to receive services or benefits from.

As a rule, to be considered a disability, RA needs to be severe enough to prevent you from working. Also, your doctor needs to think it’s most likely that your RA will continue to prevent you from working for at least 12 months. Often, you’ll need to present paperwork, such as a diagnosis from your doctor, X-rays, evidence of your medications, and more.

Each organization has its own rules and will let you know what information they need to process your application.

The exact definition of a disability can vary depending on the organization or state offering services. However, when most people refer to a legal disability, they’re talking about conditions that meet the requirements set by the U.S. Social Security Administration (SSA).

The SSA defines a disability as a condition that is either fatal or will last for at least 6 months and that prevents you from working.

RA is a type of arthritis, and, like all types of arthritis, pain is the primary symptom. RA pain is primarily located in joints. Symptoms in addition to painful and aching joints include:

RA is an autoimmune disease. It happens when your immune system attacks your body’s own healthy cells. It’s unclear what causes this to happen.

Although the exact cause of RA is unknown, some risk factors linked to the condition include:

  • Age: People are most likely to get diagnosed with RA in their 60s.
  • Sex: Rates of RA are highest among women.
  • Genetics: The human leukocyte antigen (HLA) DRB1 gene is linked to a higher risk of RA and to more severe RA symptoms.
  • Obesity: Obesity can put you at a greater risk for RA.
  • Smoking: Studies have shown that smoking increases the risk of RA.
  • Gum disease: Gum disease is linked to a higher risk of RA.
  • Lung disease: People with lung disease have a higher risk of RA.

Other risk factors are still being studied and might increase the risk of RA. This includes risk factors related to childbirth and environmental surroundings.

A treatment plan to help you manage RA includes medication to help prevent joint damage and slow the condition’s progression. This often includes disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs) or biological response modifiers.

Lifestyle changes can also help reduce symptoms. This typically includes maintaining a moderate weight, quitting smoking if you smoke, engaging consistently in physical activity, and reducing alcohol intake.

RA is chronic. There is no cure for this progressive condition. However, medication and lifestyle changes can help manage symptoms and slow joint damage.

You can learn more about RA and disability by reading the answers to some common questions.

Can you decrease the risk of RA?

Research has shown that nursing decreases the risk of RA.

What are the complications of RA?

Without treatment and management, RA can lead to heart disease and obesity. It’s vital for people with RA to quit smoking and maintain a moderate weight.

Can I exercise if I have RA?

Yes. Exercise is beneficial for people with RA. Although it might seem challenging to take on physical activity when you’re in pain, exercise can actually help relieve symptoms. It can also boost your energy and help improve your overall health and mood. Even a few minutes of physical activity can be a great first step.

RA is a painful chronic and progressive autoimmune condition. The condition is considered a disability if it prevents you from working.

You’ll likely need to submit documentation from your doctor, test results, and other paperwork detailing the severity of your RA before the SSA or any other agency will approve your disability application.

Talk with your doctor if you have RA and are interested in disability benefits and services, especially if your symptoms have worsened and are preventing you from working.